E-Commerce Sales Hit Record Numbers as Shoppers Were Encouraged to Stay Home
Consumers pulled in the purse strings and mostly shopped from home over the Thanksgiving weekend but said they still have many holiday purchases ahead, reflecting the disruption the pandemic is causing as retailers readjust to new buying patterns.
In-store foot traffic, usually marked by a cascade of consumers falling over each other to grab doorbuster deals, plunged 55% on Thanksgiving and 37% on Black Friday compared with last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Shoppers, however, placed online sales in record numbers: Online-only shopping surged 44% for the entire weekend to 95.7 million consumers.
That represented an 8% year-over-year gain for Black Friday while online shoppers on Saturday jumped 17%. The typically busy foot-traffic weekend came at a time when COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths were spiking to early pandemic levels, and cities and states were strongly urging consumers to stay home and away from large groups of people, both family members and in public.
When it all shook out, an estimated 189.6 million consumers used the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend for in-store and online shopping this year, slightly lower than last year, NRF said. Spending fell roughly 14% over the long weekend that included Cyber Monday to an average of nearly $312 per person from about $362 last year and about a buck below even with sales in 2018.
“We knew the pandemic was going to impact in-store foot traffic,” NRF CEO Matthew Shay said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We anticipated that consumers would shift some of their shopping behavior online and we certainly saw that.”
Much of the slowdown during what has traditionally been the kickoff to the holiday shopping period and, with few exceptions, typically logging record numbers, could be attributed to retailers such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy keeping their stores closed on Thanksgiving. That bucked a trend that began about a decade ago, long before crowded stores were considered a health hazard.
On Black Friday, stores were mostly open but with stringent safety protocols and capacity limits in force. Shopping center and mall traffic was notably slower while downtown shopping hubs such as Fifth Avenue in New York or Michigan Avenue in Chicago were unnervingly sparse.
Retailers expected as much and began pushing holiday sales events as early as October. November turned into “Black Friday Month” with deals breaking at least once a week. That prompted 59% of shoppers to start gathering gifts by early November, according to NRF.
“It was clear more shopping is to come and all those shoppers started earlier,” Shay said. “Many still have about half their shopping unfinished and more than 90% expect they will be out looking for those attractive promotions throughout the rest of the season.”
NRF did not provide total sales estimates, but by by Adobe Analytics’ count, online shopping on Black Friday hit a jaw-dropping $9 billion, a 21.6% leap over last year’s $7.4 billion. Adobe data is far more inclusive than NRF’s, analyzing 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million store-keeping units known as SKUs, and 80 of the largest retailers, what the firm boasts as “more than any other technology company.”
To embrace the Black Friday e-commerce girth, consider these facts: On a per-minute basis, consumers dished out $6.3 million, averaging about $27.50. More than half of those sales, or $3.6 billion, was rung up on the handheld computers most call their smartphones. That was a 25.3% year-over-year jump accounting for 40% of all online spending, Adobe said.
At the same time, in-store and curbside pickup, a purchasing choice that has swelled since the onset of the pandemic, vaulted 52% on Black Friday.
To further underscore the depth of e-commerce’s growth, Cyber Monday sales rocked a record $10.8 billion by the day’s end, “making it the largest online shopping day in U.S. history and beating last year’s $9.4 billion record,” Adobe said.
“Cyber Monday put the total season-to-date spending over the $100 billion threshold, at $106.5 billion — 27.7% year-over-year — surpassing this milestone nine days faster than last year.”
And, as NRF’s Shay pointed out, it’s still early in the holiday shopping season. There are three more full weeks of potential spending ahead.